Your Ultimate Car Rental Checklist

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Let our car rental checklist put your mind at rest before you head off on that next road trip. Here’s everything you need to think about. And the things you don’t.

Download your printable car rental checklist right here.

Image of a car rental checklist which you can download

The Perfect Car Rental Checklist

We love a good road trip here at Travel Lab HQ. Whether I’m on my own, with friends or family or zipping about for work, driving can be a great way to explore the world, chill out and get things done. 

However. I wish I’d had a car rental checklist when I first started travelling. Because there are things you need to know and it’s easy to forget about something at the pick-up desk.

And, look, while it may not be cool to admit it, it can sometimes feel intimidating, especially the first time. All those pages of legal blurb. All that jet lag. All that racing through the insurance terms and conditions.

I once spent 40 long minutes convinced I was going to be stranded on a mountainside for the rest of my life as I couldn’t work out how to get the car into reverse.

Don’t make my mistakes. Give yourself peace of mind and learn from my car rental experience with this checklist (which, you can download and print out for free here.)

Rusting orange car abandoned in the desert
Because no-one wants their road trip to end up like this…

Your Full Car Rental Checklist

Before you reserve your rental vehicle, check out the following important details.

When Booking

  • Will you have enough space for all passengers, including luggage, pushchairs, car seats, surfboards, golf clubs and anything else large and cumbersome?
  • Can you drive it? Many countries, especially in Europe, have manual cars as the default option, not automatics. Also, do you need an international driving permit or any other necessary documents?
  • Can your rental car handle the road? Do you need a 4WD for off-road terrain? Snow chains for the mountains?
  • Is it small enough ;-) Smaller is better for city driving. As long as you can all fit in.
  • Do you need to book SatNav or child car seats? If so, what about additional charges?
  • What about car insurance? Do you need additional coverage for additional drivers? Car rental companies frequently try to upsell your insurance coverage when you pick up your keys (for additional fees, of course.)Think about it in advance and research as necessary so as to make the best decision for you.
  • In many countries, the car rental company will insist you pay by credit card. However, in other places, they will insist on cash or debit cards. Find out from the rental agency before you fly and plan accordingly to avoid steep charges.
  • Does air conditioning count as one of your essential items? Not all countries and not every type of vehicle has it, so ask if you’re not sure.
  • Car rental periods usually run in 24 hour blocks of time. Make sure you leave enough time in your booking for any normal delays because of traffic and the like.
  • Also, you often don’t need a car in most cities. Sometimes, it’s worth heading back to the airport on the second or third day of your trip instead of paying extra just to battle through traffic and pay extortionate parking fees in the city of your arrival.
  • Do you have a valid driver’s license? Don’t let the small things trip you up!
  • Check the fine print for extra costs. Car rental is one of those areas where it seems completely common to try to bamboozle the customer.
Austria - Tirol - Abi in with car in St Johann in Tirol
Hire a car and enjoy driving around the Tirol region in Austria…

On Pick Up (Including Vehicle Inspection Checklist)

Although you may feel rushed, most rental car companies give you quite a while to check out your rental vehicle before you drive off. Make the most of this time to truly understand how everything works and to look for any damage. It is so, so much harder to sort out when you’re already on the road.

With that in mind, your vehicle inspection checklist should include:

  • Check which type of petrol or gas you need and note which side the fuel cap is on.
  • Note down the emergency breakdown number for roadside assistance and ask what to do if you lose your key. Make sure you have a copy of the car rental agreement or car rental form.
  • Check the returns process, particularly if you are returning outside normal business hours. Do you need to drop off the keys somewhere in particular?
  • Walk around the car looking for obvious pre-existing damage and check the condition of the tyres. Make sure the license plates are attached and easy to read. Make sure the spare tyre or spare tire is there and in good condition. It’s a good idea to take photos and raise any concerns you have with staff then and there.
  • Check the fuel level and miles on the dashboard and note them down. Do you need to bring the vehicle back with a full tank or empty? What is the fuel policy?
  • Check the car has a manual, jack and lug wrench already.
  • Check the lights, mirrors and windscreen wipers and drive around the parking lot before leaving. Is everything in good condition?
  •  Check that you know how to find the reverse gear as it differs from car to car.
  • Get all your road trip essentials in place (snacks, water, Sat Nav, music) and then hit the road!
Abigail King happy in a rental car on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland
After all the fun, don’t forget your car rental return procedure…

Upon Return

Hooray – we hope you had a great trip. But you’re not quite done yet. We need to consider the return procedure.

  • Make a note of the mileage and petrol level. Take a photo to be sure.
  • Check for any damage and take photos of the car.
  • Check under the seats, in the glove box and in the boot or trunk.
  • Obtain a receipt if possible or photograph the car in the return space.

Make sure your vehicle can tackle the road conditions ahead, has space for all passengers AND luggage and (ahem) make sure you know how to drive it.

Know the Rules of the Road

In Britain, you drive on the left. And Japan. And Australia,  Jamaica, Malawi and the Maldives and many more. 

So, for one, check whether to drive on the left or right with this handy website.

But the rules don’t end there. Some countries require certain equipment, such as a spare pair of glasses in the glovebox, or restrict various others. See not being allowed to drive in flip flops in Spain, among others.

Check the rules of the road in the country (or state) you plan to drive in. You may be surprised…

Don’t forget to download your printable car rental checklist right here.

How to Put Together the Perfect Road Trip